(BIVN) – Visitors to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park are treated this holiday season to a magnificent glow at the summit of Kīlauea, but they still cannot see lava.
“Given the depth of Halemaʻumaʻu crater, no molten lava is currently visible from publicly accessible areas,” the National Park Service notes on its website. “However, the plume and nighttime glow are visible from many areas of the park.”
The urge to see the erupting lava has led some to bypass the closures in an attempt at a closer look. The National Park Service has this to say:
The return of lava to Kīlauea volcano has resulted in a sharp increase in visitation, and a rise in potentially deadly closure violations at the summit lava lake after dark.
The eruption is contained within a closed area at Halemaʻumaʻu, the summit crater, where a rising lava lake is being fed by two vents gushing molten rock. Dangerous levels of volcanic gas, rockfalls, explosions and volcanic glass particulates are the primary hazards, according to USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists. The area has been closed since 2007. Crater edges at Halemaʻumaʻu and along Kīlauea caldera are extremely unstable, and collapses can occur at any time. Visitors should stay back from cliff edges and heed closure notices and barriers.
Despite these potentially lethal hazards, park rangers have cited dozens of careless individuals intent on snapping a photo or video for social media bragging rights.
“All it takes is a slight change in wind direction and these offenders could inhale a fatal dose of volcanic gas. One misstep or a crumbling cliff edge and they could plunge into the vast pit of molten rock or to the crater floor,” said Chief Ranger Jack Corrao. “We want to keep the park open so everyone can safely experience this beautiful new eruption, but when visitors enter closed areas, rangers must concentrate on these few individuals. This puts our staff in hazardous situations and causes them to shift their focus away from the safety of visitors experiencing the eruption in designated viewing areas,” Corrao said.
Designated viewing areas that are open 24 hours a day include Waldron Ledge, Wahinekapu, Mauna Loa Lookout, Keanakākoʻi and Volcano House. Kīlauea Overlook is best visited before sunrise to avoid crowds. A plume of gas and steam can be seen wafting from the crater during daylight. After dark, the lava deep within the crater paints the crater walls and plume with mesmerizing eruptive colors.
Visitors are warned that these open areas also present hazards, especially near unstable cliff edges and during periods of poor air quality.
The National Park Service is also reminding the public to heed these precautions:
- Volcanic eruptions can be hazardous and change at any time.
- Stay on marked trails and overlooks, and avoid earth cracks and cliff edges. Do not enter closed areas.
- Hazardous volcanic gases are billowing out the crater and present a danger to everyone, especially people with heart or respiratory problems, infants, young children and pregnant women. Go to hawaiiSO2network.com to monitor conditions.
- Slow down and drive safely.
- Maintain social distance of six feet from others and wear a mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Masks do not protect against volcanic gas.